By Kayla Sosa
This year marks 30 years that a local Grand Rapids organization has been helping women start their own businesses.
Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, or G.R.O.W., is a nonprofit organization that supports business owners at every stage – from startup, to a growing business or an established business. GROW puts entrepreneurs in touch with professional connections and resources, provides classes on business, marketing and financial planning and gives additional support throughout the entire process.
“GROW was founded by a woman named LeAnne Moss,” said GROW CEO Bonnie Nawara. “She was a social worker and she worked with women who were in situations they couldn’t get out of, but they had great business ideas.”
With the help of other community leaders, Moss and others founded GROW in 1989. The organization actually ran for four years before then, but it was that year that the Small Business Association (SBA) made GROW an official Women’s Business Center.
“Now, we’re one of three women’s business centers in the state, and one of 110 in the nation,” Nawara said.
To be an official women’s business center, the organization has to “serve an underserved population, primarily women,” Nawara said. They also have to meet a certain number of clients, which Nawara said is never a problem.
“We have a lot of clients,” she smiled.
With Nawara in leadership, the organization has seen significant change over the past nine years.
“We’ve added some new programmings, we became a lender, we went from a staff of four to a staff of eight,” she said. “We also moved from just working with women, to working with women and men.”
Becoming a lender – providing clients with access to capital – was one of the biggest changes, Nawara said.
“We found that people had business ideas but they didn’t have the money to start their business,” Nawara said. “We became a micro lender first and foremost to offer our businesses the opportunity to get the funds to get started … We call it non-traditional banking; so they might have some credit issues or some federal loans, those types of things. And when they come to us, they might not always be, what we call, ‘loan-ready,’ but one of the big pieces, too, is that we work with them until they become ‘loan-ready.’”
While the organization has developed over three decades, the mission to empower women still remains the same.
“I’m a big advocate of supporting women and believing that women should be paid
fairly, and should be able to support themselves, and should be self-sufficient,” Nawara said. “To be given every opportunity there is, so that they can take care of themselves.”
And Nawara said this doesn’t always mean that every client at GROW is going to start a business. Many walk away with a soft skill set, and a confidence and support network that they didn’t have before.
All classes at GROW are low-cost to no cost.
To learn more, visit www.growbusiness.org.